This psychonaut remembers versions of these still knocking around in the early 1980’s. 5 sheets made our live aid weekend in Brighton a very long one !
In the early 1970s, England was awash in LSD and much of it was produced by one clandestine organization: the Microdot Gang. Microdot LSD was known for its purity and for its potency. In fact, many users from the 1970s still remember it by name some fifty years later. At its apex in 1978, the Microdot Gangs’s autonomous distribution networks extended to Europe, Canada, Australia, and the United States. By the mid-1970s, British law enforcement made LSD distribution a top priority and launched Operation Julie, a massive investigation and sting operation that included hundreds of detectives and police officers. Operation Julie eventually led to 87 household raids and over 120 arrests in March of 1977. Alston Hughes, aka “Smiles,” a crucial LSD dealer for the Microdot gang, was arrested at his home in Llanddewi-Brefi, a remote and tranquil Welsh village. When the villagers heard of his arrest, they were shocked because Smiles was widely known for his affability and his fondness for buying free drinks at the local pub.
British law enforcement has typically regarded “Operation Julie” as an enormously successful sting operation that effectively curtailed the production of Microdot LSD. There have been nine books written about Operation Julie and many of them were written by detectives who participated in the historic investigation. Although the story of Operation Julie has often been dominated by law enforcement’s narrative of moral self-congratulation (“we took acid off the streets”), alternative histories of the Microdot era are now beginning to emerge.
Andy Roberts, noted historian of British psychedelic culture, has penned an engaging and thought provoking biography, In Search of Smiles, LSD, Operation Julie and Beyond (2023), that provides a lively portrait of the British counterculture in the 1970s. Recreating Hughes’s colorful life as a cannabis and LSD dealer in the halcyon days of the 1970s, In Search of Smiles succeeds because it mirrors the life experiences of many people who came of age in the golden era of British psychedelia (1960s and the early 1970s). In literary terms, Roberts’s narrative of Smiles’s topsy turvy life also succeeds as a Dickensian tale of deferred redemption: its protagonist endures horrific abuse from his sadistic Mancunian stepfather, yet he somehow manages to retain his good nature and humanity. While serving in the army, the abuse continues when Hughes is beaten by his superior officer, Lance Corporal Lunn: “[Hughes] bore the beatings stoically, I smiled at him and he called me “smiler,” a nickname he would carry for several years until his first wife shortened it to “Smiles.” After leaving the army, Smiles travels to free festivals (Bath Free Festival of Blues and Progressive Music in 1970, Phun City, and the iconic Isle of Wight festival) where he discovers community—like minded hippies and free spirits—as well as LSD and free love. By narrating the story of Hughes’s transformation, Roberts manages to also provide a vivid portrait of British alternative culture in the era before Thatcher comes to power.
Read the interview